There's still work to be done
Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet, kicked off the weekend of his home Grand Prix with some healthy lap times at Le Mans. The 26-year-old, riding the Ninja ZX-RR, finished today's two, hour-long practice sessions in 12th place on combined times.
he was one of the fastest through the speed trap today, that wasn't Randy's primary concern at the Bugatti Circuit, as he used both sessions to concentrate on refining machine set up. Having used just one set of tyres for the whole of the morning session, he clocked his fastest time on his last lap, giving him huge confidence in the longevity of the Bridgestones' grip.
Similarly, in the afternoon practice, he switched to a new rear tyre just before the end of the session but patches of rain on his out lap brought him in early and he called it a day. He and the team remain in no doubt that there's plenty of progress to come in qualifying practice tomorrow afternoon.
Meanwhile, Fonsi Nieto, Randy's teammate for the weekend, put in a solid performance on the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR. The Spaniard, standing in for the injured Olivier Jacque, clocked 1'39.463 on his first outing on a MotoGP machine.
Nieto took his time in the early session, getting used to the bike and tyres before stiffening up the rear suspension in the afternoon, after which there was a significant improvement. He then went on familiarising himself with the power delivery and handling of the Ninja ZX-RR and the characteristics of the Bridgestone tyres.
Nieto was also surprised at quite how light a MotoGP bike is, compared to his more familiar World Superbike machine, and proved cautious into corners and slightly uneasy on the brakes. He was caught out, early on, forgetting carbon brakes need time to reach their optimal operating temperature and briefly left the track at the ultra-fast turn one.
In the afternoon, Nieto improved his time to 1'38.837 with a top speed of 252.1 km/h.
The erstwhile 250cc world championship rider, running number 11, has a healthy history at Le Mans and his feedback to crew chief, Fiorenzo Fanali, has been both coherent and accurate. Therefore, Fonsi, his crew and the team are confident he will close the gap further on the series regulars over the weekend.
Randy de Puniet
"The first day in Le Mans hasn't been easy as we've struggled a lot with the rear. It moves a lot, exiting corners and it was difficult to change direction. I can't say I'm unhappy, though I'm not confident. My confidence in the bike set up improved into the afternoon session but we need to keep progressing tomorrow, mainly in T4 where I've been losing a lot of time. However, I'm really happy with the race tyres. I spent the whole session this morning with the same set and I did my best lap time in my last lap. I used a new set of the same spec in the afternoon and the conclusion was the same. The performance and consistency are very good; very positive for the race. The weather wasn't wonderful but the forecasters predict good conditions for tomorrow. We all hope they aren't wrong!"
"This morning, I was so excited to get on the Kawasaki MotoGP bike for the first time. The experience of riding the 800cc Ninja ZX-RR has been amazing and I've had a lot of fun, although we still have a lot of work to do tomorrow. Following the team's advice, I decided to take it easy as everything was new to me. I just wanted to get used to the bike and the tyres without rushing, to avoid making any mistakes. The biggest differences and challenges for me today have been the difference in weight, the carbon brakes and the tyres. I don't have all the confidence necessary to change direction, I need to improve my braking to maintain a good corner speed and also to gain some confidence in the front tyre as well. The weather conditions didn't help us much and, consequently, my lap times have been quite slow but there is plenty of room for improvement tomorrow. The team, and particularly having Fiorenzo Fanali by my side, helps me a lot and I'm sure tomorrow will be much better."